Never judge a book by its cover is a common platitude, but should you judge a movie by its title? Avoiding a movie based on its title seems like a perfect way to miss out on great cinema (although I must admit, I’ve yet to see Licorice Pizza, and I can’t absolutely guarantee that the thoroughly unappetizing title hasn’t influenced my avoidance). The converse—choosing a movie based on its title—is a wonderful way to stumble upon hidden gems. That’s how I found Dude Bro Party Massacre III, one of my favorite movies of all time. The title Deadly Garage Sale (2022) has a similar irresistible energy. Sure, it’s going to be trashy and silly and nonsensical, but that’s often a recipe for the perfect movie night.
Deadly Garage Sale begins with a brother, Pete, and sister, Trudee, who rob garage sales. These are careless criminals, showing their faces and engaging with the homeowners before committing the robbery in front of countless onlookers. Soon enough, tragedy strikes. The robbery is botched, Pete takes a dramatic and fatal tumble down the stairs, and Trudee flees the scene.
Soon enough though, Trudee returns, vowing revenge. She is determined to destroy homeowner Marcia’s life. It’s a simple premise, without the twists you’d expect in a thriller like Gone Girl or Woman in the Window. Here, we know the villain’s motive: the only mystery is in seeing if poor Marcia will discover Trudee’s scheme in time.
Deadly Garage Sale takes place in wealthy, snooty, and predominantly white neighborhoods, so racial diversity is definitely lacking. The movie does center a mostly female cast, which is positive. The main character’s struggle is relatable: she leaves her stressful job to find happiness but then struggles with money as she attempts to redirect her career. Given how many people suffered from job loss and overwhelming job expectations during the pandemic, this makes her somewhat sympathetic. However, her solution to her financial issues—to host weekly garage sales to pay her mortgage despite threats from a cruel HOA leader and despite the death of a burglar that happens on her property—make her struggles way less relatable and way more absurd. But isn’t that why we tune into these movies? Did anyone turn on a movie called Deadly Garage Sale and expect a straightforward drama filled with reasonable people making logical decisions?
Where Deadly Garage Sale stumbles isn’t really in its absurdity or near unbelievability—those are its strengths—but in its slow pace and occasional didactic tone. I found myself texting during the slow parts of the movie, and I can genuinely say I missed nothing. While this film might be good for someone who’s busy and can’t pay attention to every scene or for a movie night crowd who doesn’t mind talking over the sluggish parts, it's tough to justify from an artistic standpoint.
Deadly Garage Sale's worst flaw is that it has more lessons than a children’s film and is much more didactic. After Trudee sneaks into Marcia’s house, steals her password cheat sheet, and hacks into her bank account, Marcia receives instructions about good vs. bad password security practices. These lessons seem aimed at an anticipated audience of older women who might fall prey to similar scams. Still, within the context of the film, these scenes only slow down the plot and ultimately edge towards victim blaming. If her house was already compromised in a break-in, couldn’t a burglar who really wanted the cheat sheet have torn the house apart to find it or even cracked a safe she was supposed to be storing it in? Plus, this wasn’t a chance burglar who stumbled upon an opportunity, but a persistent foe who aimed to destroy her life. Similar victim blaming occurs when the people assume the theft occurred because Marcia brought a man home on a first date. The movie doesn’t take enough time to counteract these assumptions, even though it’s evident that she would have had her passwords stolen regardless of her choices surrounding sex.
Although Deadly Garage Sale is pretty average overall, there are some praiseworthy moments. In the beginning of the film, Marcia’s daughter Candace is frustrated when her mother wants her to set up a livestream to advertise the garage sale. Candace reluctantly agrees, and she puts on a friendly, helpful livestream persona, where she is a dutiful, kind daughter helping out her mom. The moment the camera turns off, Candace is again annoyed and resentful. The acting here is excellent and reminds us subtly how seemingly happy online relationships can be fabricated. This lesson works well because it isn’t didactic: it’s something we can notice, not something we are told.
Another excellent moment comes when Marcia makes eggs for Trudee. Trudee’s manipulation and cruelty has grown so severe that Marcia can’t help but suspect something is amiss. Still, Marcia chooses her words carefully, telling stories that wouldn’t offend an innocent woman but are designed to provoke and upset a guilty one. Watching Trudee squirm and Marcia finally regain some power makes for quite a compelling moment. This scene is well written, well-acted, and so much fun to watch.
Without spoiling it, the climax of the movie is an excellent callback to an earlier scene. It isn’t a major twist, but that’s ultimately why it works. The reason why these subtle scenes work so well is because they’re in the context of an over-the-top movie. But never fear, there are also completely unsubtle scenes like Pete tumbling down the stairs to his doom or the escalating conflicts with the evil HOA woman.
Could it be more diverse? Definitely. Could it have less plot-halting teachable moments for older adults? Certainly. But should it be less trashy, silly or nonsensical? No. Because that’s what makes Deadly Garage Sale so darn fun.